Just when you think you've seen everything ...
The Plainville High girls basketball team had a chance to avenge its lone setback of the season Friday night.
Northwest Catholic, coached by New Britain's Karl Herbert, is a deep and talented group that will be heard from come tournament time. After beating Plainville in overtime, 60-53, at home on Dec. 7 -- the second game of the season -- Northwest lost its only game, a 61-56 verdict to once-beaten Bulkeley.
Plainville, as is generally the case, isn't blessed with much depth. While the talent may be a bit thin, I prevail on the wisdom of the Blue Devils' longtime manager "Matty Matt" Gingras as to what makes the team special.
Matty Matt says with a child-like sing-song lilt in his voice, "We got Desiree and you don't."
If anybody needs an introduction, Matty Matt is referring to Desiree Pina, Plainville's senior guard who packs more pound-for-pound talent onto her ultra-athletic 5-foot-5 frame than any player I've ever seen.
Northwest ran defender after defender at Pina to no avail. They consistently bounced her off the Ivan Wood Gymnasium hardwood. Sometimes she seemed to have tears in her eyes as she peeled herself off the floor. Once, she laid there a little longer and I'm not sure I've never prayed so hard for somebody to get up.
Pina scored 26 points and gathered in 12 rebounds as the Blue Devils gradually built a double-digit lead and held on for a 45-37 win over the Indians. Her teammates kept the ball in her hands as much as possible.
Defense was the focal point for coach Lisa Mandeville's club. Defensive savvy enabled Plainville to defuse Northwest's propensity for creating easy buckets off steals.
"They score a ton of points in transition," Mandeville said. "They like to run. They got (60) shots off (to Plainville's 35) and that wasn't by accident."
Defensive savvy. That's what Mandeville, her husband Lou, Jen (Gombotz) Micowski and Steve Compson stress. In Pina they have a no-doubt All-Stater. In sophomore Alyssa Martino, they have a smart, underrated star-in-waiting. In Val Caron, Alex Petit and Sarah Dinda, they have an unselfish trio that recognizes and appreciates who butters their toast.
"We sent two kids back when we were shooting," Lisa said in regard to slowing Northwest's transition tidal wave. "Sometimes it looks like our kids are shooting the ball and not going in for offensive rebounds. They absolutely were not. We have three people rebounding but we're small. You need to be able to get up the floor and defend, and I don't think we gave up many chippies."
Martino, a long-distance left-handed shooter, scored 19 points. She is particularly accurate on the inbounds play from underneath where she pops straight out, Pina lofts the ball to her and she has space to square up and let fly.
Dinda, Caron and Petit combined for zero points. That does not diminish their worth.
"They're not the ones who are always high-scorers and stuff but they do the most work on our offense," Pina said. "They're always setting screens, working hard boxing out, posting up so hard.
"Sarah Dinda is unbelievable. She works her butt off down there. She just deserves so much credit."
Said Herbert: "You don't see those girls doing anything that they're not capable of doing. They're not going out there taking three-point shots, they're not trying to take the game over. They realize that (Pina) is probably the best player in our league and what they do is play within themselves and within a scheme.
"They didn't score but they were major contributors."
The Devils kept their offensive mistakes to a minimum, especially in the face of the defensive pressure that Northwest exerts.
"That's what we work on in practice. We make sure we're strong with the ball," Pina said.
Herbert said that if somebody told him before the game that two Plainville players would score all the team's points, it would have been to Northwest's great advantage. Herbert citing the defense is sweet music to Mandeville's ears.
"They played zone and limited our looks from the outside," he said. "They knew who are shooters were and expanded the zone to cover our shooters when we had them in the game. they made it difficult to get free shots off. We got shots but they were always contested."
Tributes all around to the Devils. They don't have the height to force the ball into the low post. They don't have the across-the-board athleticism like Northwest that enables them to press from end to end, from jump ball to game-ending buzzer. They don't have an array of downtown bombers like East Catholic who can tickle the twine regularly.
If you want to know what they DO have, see Matty Matt.